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Director Owen Lammers calls it one of the "largest and most environmentally and socially destructive projects on Earth"(Maier, 1997). One of China’s oldest dreams is becoming its newest reality. Since 1914 the idea has arisen of damming the Yangtze River. China plans to do this with a 600-foot, cement wall which will take eleven years to complete and costs could rise to over 75 billion dollars. The dam is claimed to have many advantages for China and the Chinese. Three Gorges is expected to produce around one-tenth of the nation’s energy, without the use of coal, improving air quality. Also, the natural floods that occur with the Yangtze river will be stopped, supposedly saving thousands of lives in the future. The first thing needed to keep the project going is money, and many United States senators see this as a great opportunity for jobs, but it is also viewed as a good investment. Fortunately, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, (for the first time), "…denied financing solely on environmental grounds"(Giaccia, 1997). These advantages are easily outweighed by the disadvantages of this proposal; this monument threatens the environment, but construction will ensue.
If the dam is so beneficial then why is it that all public debate on the issue has been banned since 1989, even for "…scientists and specialists"(Faison, 1997). This has probably been done to slow the process of or eliminate any opposition that may arise to this project. There are a few questions or "What if’s" about the dam, such as "What if the dam collapses?" or "What if during a war or conflict a bomb is dropped on the dam?" and since the dam is built on many seismic faults, will earthquakes be a problem? Besides all of these questions, there are numerous facts that should dissuade any proponent of the dam to insist on its construction. The dam besides hurting the environment, will also "…displace 1.3 million people."(Giaccia, 1997). These people were not asked to leave, they were told, and many of them still have not been compensated for their trouble, but this goes deeper than financial burdens. Individual rights have been violated, the government simply forced these people off their land and out of their homes and this affects children, families and livelihoods.
Looking at the dam’s environmental harm specifically, it is clear that this project should immediately cause. "Environmentalists warn that sewage will back up and destroy the precious habitats for river dolphins, giant pandas and other rare animals.
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"Critics both inside and outside of China assail the Three Gorges Dam as unnecessary and dangerous. Environmentalists, led in China by activist Dai Qing, fear that toying in this way with the world’s third largest river risks unforeseeable and potentially dangerous consequences. They fear that the industrial and human waste will fill the reservoir and that the river’s reduced water flow will be incapable of flushing it all out. More ominously, they warn that unusually high water levels could someday overwhelm the dam and cause even more devastating floods than those the dam is intended to prevent"(Plafker, 1997).
Chinese Journalist Jin Hui writes: "The result will be a poisoned river"(Knight, 1997). The change in the river flow and level could also cause landslides and tidal waves.
The cons are numerous. Countless cultural and archaelogical relics will be submerged. This becomes very important because in the quest for power and economic growth China will lose priceless knowledge about their culture, and/or past civilizations, once lost these can never be recovered.
Looking at a specific case of environmental disruption on the part of the dam, the white-bellied dolphin is endangered and could become extinct with the rise of the dam! The dolphin used to be reversed as it galloped through the lakes, now it is on the brink of extinction due to economic development. Some experts estimate that less than one hundred of these Chinese white river dolphins exist, making it "… one of the world’s most endangered species"(Mufson, 1997). Alarming news is that the Three Gorges Dam could push this species over the brink by "… altering the water temperature, flood patterns, and feeding grounds"(Mufson, 1997). Unfortunately, no one knows about the dolphin; it does not receive the international attention of the panda, so the story is not common knowledge. Myths surround the dolphin; some say it’s the reincarnation of a beautiful princess. This dolphin is special because it is one of only five river dolphins in the world. And because mating is so difficult, reinvigorating the population is doubtful. The dam is a symbol of how human problems take precedence over conservation issues:
The Three Gorges Dam is the most glaring example of China’s other priorities. The dam will change the nature of the environment drastically, said Wang Ding, researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology. The dam will probably lower the water temperatures by 1 degree during the spring mating season. It will also cause the washing away of sandy beaches and islands where the baiji feed and reproduce, and it might change the direction of the river so that it no longer flows into the oxbow lake, an alternation that would wipe out years of effort to create a natural reserve. The dolphin tells us about the destruction of nature and the destruction of nature and the environment, said Wang. It is a warning to us about the speed of the destruction and our future"(Mufson, 1997).
The President of China, Jiang Zemin, wants international attention. He wants the whole world to see that China is a world power. Zemin proclaims, "…that China’s emperors could only dream of taming the Yangtze"(Faison, 1997). Maybe Zemin also wants to look like the "bigman" himself, to gain respect from his people and the international community. His greatness might better be demonstrated by his ability to reason and restrict his impulsiveness. Building one gigantic dam is foolish when the same product could be accomplished with fewer effects on the environment. The Chinese President is willing to spend billions of dollars, displace millions, submerge towns, villages and archaelogical sites, hurt endangered species, poison the third-largest river in the world, and possibly kill hundreds of thousands of people, all for a reputation. Our President chose an alternative means to gain his credibility.
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